Take a peek at the San Francisco Giants' active roster and you'll see a curious thing. You'll see Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey checking in at a green 23 years of age—the Kung Fu Panda's birthday is coming up in August whereas Gerald Demp the Third just had his in March.
There's also newbie reliever Dan Runzler, who's recently turned a grizzled 25.
Other than those three, there's nobody else on the 25-man docket wetter behind the ears than stud right-hander Matt Cain (who turns 26 on October 1).
Perhaps it doesn't jump off the page if you're not amongst the team's die-hards, but Cainer also happens to be the longest-tenured Giant player. He entered the organization soon after being drafted as a 17-year-old in 2002 and made his big league debut about a month shy of 21 in 2005, making this his sixth year by the Bay.
Granted, the margin's not exactly huge.
Southpaw starter Jonathan Sanchez and closer Brian Wilson would join up in 2006. Meanwhile, the infamous Barry Zito deal would be signed before the 2007 season as would Bengie Molina's first contract with the franchise. Lastly, the '07 campaign saw Tim Lincecum's much-anticipated premiere as well as Nate Schierholtz's less heralded one.
Nevertheless, it bears mentioning that not a single player who suited up with Cain during his first experiences in Major League Baseball is still donning the Orange and Black.
That's pretty crazy when you consider how young he still is and the fact that the Gents current roster doesn't exactly give off that new car smell.
I mention this because his experience-beyond-years is underrated, like pretty much everything the Quiet Kid has done with San Francisco.
You might say it's an odd time to be singing the praises of the Alabama native, considering he got absolutely torched by the Houston Astros on Thursday. I mean, he got battered from start to premature finish—Matty served up a three-run bomb to Hunter Pence in the first inning that might as well have been on a tee.
Carlos Lee, the dormant Lance Berkman—I drafted him in one fantasy league because he always seems to hit .400 against my make-believe squads and this is what I get, awesome—and rookie catcher Jason Castro each hit lasers off los Gigantes' second ace. Luckily, only Castro's ball left the yard, otherwise Cain's final line would've been even uglier than it was.
And it was already every shade of ugly—2 2/3 IP (or eight outs), 9 H, 7 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 2 HR, and 4 2B. Yeah, that's six hits for extra bases in less than three innings of work.
Ironically, though, all that carnage should give you a better understanding of just how excellent the product of Tennessee high school baseball has been thus far in 2010.
Despite all the hideous Houston gore, Cain saw his earned run average skyrocket all the way up to 2.72 and his WHIP balloon to 1.10. Opponents can't exactly brag about their .219 average, .61 HR/9, or .624 OPSA, either. Finally, his 1.9 wins above replacement ties him for ninth-best in the National League.
Those are superlative numbers even in a vacuum, but reconsider just how awful his twirl against the 'Stros was. Of course, the statistics don't tell the whole story.
Any assessor must also appreciate the intangibles.
Everyone realizes the San Francisco Giants are defined by their pitching staff and Lincecum sets that unit's pace. But the two-time Cy Young struggled through a brutal month of May as his command abandoned him. When the Freak lost his control, the Giant ship lost its rudder.
Enter Matt Cain—with No. 1A in shambles, No. 1B stepped into the void.
Lincecum posted a 4.95 ERA, a 1.54 WHIP, a 5.70 BB/9, and was oddly hittable as the opposition tallied a .244 average for the entire month.
By contrast, Cain was a virtually untouchable workhorse—6 GS, 44 2/3 IP, 1.81 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, .154 BAA, .468 OPSA—and threw consecutive complete games without allowing an earned run. If not for his worst start of the season until the Houston debacle (against the San Diego Padres on May 12), he would've given Ubaldo Jimenez some stiff competition for Pitcher of the Month honors.
Instead, he had to settle for playing the Franchise's role perfectly.
Actually, he one-upped his diminutive stablemate because Lincecum's always enjoyed ample run support with San Francisco. Cain, on the other hand, constantly seems to draw the iron from the offense's blood—he somehow managed to lose three May starts, including one of the complete games by virtue of a solitary, unearned run.
Regardless of what the record says, the youngest member of the starting staff led by example and became the reliable option at the front of the rotation that had gone missing.
In the process, he did as much as anyone to rescue the Giants' season from sliding off a cliff.
Matt Cain's demeanor and approach won't earn him much attention outside the Bay Area, but the locals already revere him.
Thanks to his performances on the mound, the rest of baseball is beginning to catch on.